In the face of the coronavirus pandemic, it seems as if the country, en masse, has largely been empathetic to the plight of the travel industry. Travel is one of the industries most affected by public health-driven shutdowns, which has slashed revenue, spurred mass layoffs and furloughs, and caused the industry as a whole to rethink its practices.
But even though the struggles the travel industry has encountered over the course of the pandemic serve as a microcosm for the country’s larger economic challenges, that empathy has done nothing to quash the fears of many consumers who are reticent to patronize hotels, airlines and other travel sectors. And these consumer fears will likely create a delayed rebound in the industry, even as the economy begins to heal. This creates two challenges for the marketer: how to address these consumer fears; and how to best time a ramp up in marketing investment.
The way to eliminate those fears is through strategic marketing — particularly employing the use of marketing analytics and audience segmentation — using behavioral and psychographic data.
It’s critical for travel brands to have mechanisms in place that identify audiences and, most importantly, get granular as to the origin of their travel-associated fears. It’s fairly obvious that, at a high level, consumers are concerned with contracting coronavirus while interacting during a travel experience.
But in the digital era, marketing can be much more targeted and surgical, which is advantageous to an industry challenged by coronavirus-associated fears. If a travel brand has completely reworked its cleaning and hygiene processes, how it communicates those changes may differ by audience or segment. Using more targeted content and communication is critical. A frequent business traveler may have different concerns than family travelers on vacation. The fear ultimately revolves around coronavirus but the origination of those fears is different, which is what identifies two different consumer segments.
So segmentation is critical in determining the content of a message. Compounding this challenge is how a brand should time its ramp in marketing investment. The timing of communicating these targeted messages — and to re-boost revenue and bookings — is equally important to get right. Booking patterns are different based on consumer segment. Other timing-related factors come into play as well — competitive strategy, regional differences in pandemic volumes and state regulations — in addition to the lead time and carryover effects of the marketing itself.
Given the massive drop in travel related activity, it is natural for brands to be extremely cautious about returning to higher levels of marketing investment. And the question on everyone’s mind is: When? Wait too long to see deeper signs of recovery and a brand may miss a major competitive opportunity. Start too soon and the dollars may be wasted. The problem with the way the media is planned today is that it largely ignores the timing of the economic impact (i.e. actual bookings and revenue). Today’s media planning is totally focused on reach and frequency and misses the hard-dollar contributions of the working spend. With the pandemic, it is more important than ever to use sophisticated measurement and analytics to not only understand the incremental contributions of marketing investment, but also when that impact is likely to occur.
Different media types have varying impacts over time. Paid search has a strong short-term impact, while television and video have a longer carryover. Paid social can have short-to-medium term impacts to revenues. Furthermore, different media have differing effects on the channels where consumers make their bookings. Smart analytics (and travel analytics teams) will have predictive models to measure these differences, will run a multitude of different scenarios to develop media plans to align with the highest probability of bookings’ impacts, and break this out over specific time periods. Will brands using this sophistication get it perfectly correct? No. Will these analytics provide a greatly improved batting average and make the brand a lot more competitive? Absolutely yes — without question.
Personally, I’ve done a lot of segmentation work in the past and my experience shows that brands can see up to a 30 to 50 percent lift when a brand crafts content and messaging toward a targeted, behavioral segment. Now, because of the pandemic and its “rebound timing” considerations, there is an added challenge to media planning and getting the timing right. The brands that do this will yield ever stronger results.
When travel becomes more of a consideration for consumers, brands that have marketed themselves appropriately during the pandemic will have momentum heading into that rebound period.
Travel brands can use marketing analytics to identify the consumer segments most likely to spur a quick rebound. Likewise they can pinpoint the segments where brands might expect to see a lag compared to the rest of their customer bases. And using measurement and analytics to construct the highest probability media plans, brands will see the best possible results.
Given the economic climate of the travel industry, brands must remain conscious that now, more than ever, each marketing dollar needs to be stretched as far as possible. That means investing in analytics and insights to ensure the highest possible return on investment from marketing spend that will be seen as high risk. But, the risks will be even higher if a brand re-invests blindly.